Gazing at the Sacred Peak by Du Fu

by Kelsey Briggs


At a time way back around the 1st century, before many nation’s histories had been established, poetry was upheld as a fine art in China. One of the most influential poets of the 1st century was a man named Du Fu. Du Fu lived from 712 until 770, and in the last years of his life established himself and his poems as a part of Chinese culture, being called by critics the “poet sage.” To the people of China, he was basically the equivalent of Geoffery Chaucer or William Shakespheare.



Du Fu made many of his poems while in a drunk state, reflecting on his thoughts and nature. Gazing at the Sacred Peak was one of these poems, and it’s a personal favorite of mine, as the language used conveys a wistful tone that strikes a chord with me and makes me nostalgic for things that haven’t come to pass. The poem goes as such:


Original Chinese


杜甫

望嶽

岱宗夫如何?

齊魯青未了。

造化鍾神秀,

陰陽割昏曉。

盪胸生層雲,

決眥入歸鳥。

會當凌絕頂,

一覽眾山小。



English Translation (Courtesy of Frank Watson)

What of this Sacred Mountain?


Between the Qi

and Lu provinces lays a youthful

green, unfinished


Mother of all

things— your cup is flowering,

luxuriant


Yin and yang part the dusk and dawn


And my heart is

tossed by living layers of clouds


Straining out the

corner of my

eyes I see the

incoming birds


And I'm

determined to rise and

approach the vanishing

peak


And see below the numerous

array of tiny mountains


Du Fu speaks about one of the Five Sacred Mountains in Chinese culture, that being Mt. Tai. Nowadays, you can still witness this mountain located in the Shandong province, China. This mountain in particular holds a special cultural meaning to the Chinese, and Du Fu is no exception. It being the tallest and most important of the five mountains is what I believe caught the attention of Du Fu with this poem.


Many influential poems of this era were created off of a whim whilst drunk near a river or on a boat and enjoying the tranquility of nature. The interpretation of this poem I am able to take away while reading it is a personal one by Du Fu. He seeks to be able to climb to the peak of that mountain in a symbolic way. The mountain represents all the hardships he must overcome to be able to reach the very top, and it is this symbolism that I and many others can relate to. This is why this poem is very touching to me, and why it is my favorite poem of Du Fu’s collection.



Picture Sources


China Online Museum. “Fang Zhaolin: Climbing Mount Tai”. Fang Zhaolin: Climbing Mount Tai – China Online Museum (comuseum.com). Accessed 5 October 2021.


IndieReader. Blog - IndieReader. Accessed 5 October 2021.


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